The Emergency Editor (21/12/10)

I have an emergency editor. I know several writers who have them these days, or else beta-readers or someone who’s going to give them a second opinion on their work before they submit it to their publisher. I have no idea whether we’re a small minority or a vast majority, or whether such things are far more common now than they used to be. I’d say I don’t really care either, but if some knew the answer, I’d be curious enough to listen. Point being, really, we all have our own way of doing things; for me, every now and then, that means wheeling out the emergency editor whenever something just isn’t working.

Roughly, the way it works is that I read the manuscript, chapter by chapter, and get stopped every seventeen-and-a-half seconds to be told that I’ve now used the word effervescent twice in living memory and why is one of my characters explicitly walking slowly in one sentence and then observed to be moving quickly in the next (fortunately allowing me to simply skip the next sentence in which they dismount from the horse they never actually had in the first place). Often there is a little coda, along the lines of ‘that chapter’s quite good’ or ‘that was a bit long’ or the dreaded ‘Meh. OK I guess,’ which means it isn’t.

As you can imagine, sometimes this can mean that reading through a chapter, even one of mine, can take quite a long time. I’d been mentally thinking of it as extreme editing, since we really do pick apart the manuscript line by line sometimes. However, I understand from several of my fellow authors that extreme editing is already taken and refers to re-writes carried out while free-climbing the Tsaranoro Massif or hiding inside a cave somewhere on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. My version takes place curled up somewhere warm and cosy and usually involves either hot chocolate or hot and sour soup. Not all that extreme really.

Admittedly, what comes to mind when I think ‘emergency editor’ is the emergency pilot from Airplane! but that just. . . No, just let’s not go there.

So next time you put down a book and revel in the buzz of just how good it was, spare a thought for the beta-readers, the emergency editors, the unpaid (I’d say unsung, but I guess they’re often among the names credited in the this-novel-would-never-have-existed-if-it-wasn’t-for bit that I never used to read up to a few years ago (please tell me I’m the only one) helpers who do it for the love. And the chocolate. And the soups. And maybe an episode of Dexter every 2-3 chapters, but still, mostly for the love.

(You can follow my muse, my better half, my emergency editor and many other things, the gorgeous and heroic @adamantine_lady, on Twitter. Just, for the love of Planck’s Constant, don’t say anything bad about Name of the Wind. Meanwhile The Warlock’s Shadow has been moved out of theatre and into intensive care).

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